THE DONS AND MR. DICKENS by William J. Palmer
A SECRET VICTORIAN JOURNAL ATTRIBUTED TO WILKIE COLLINS
St. Martin's Minotaur, November 2000
When an Oxford Don is found dead outside a Chinese opium den, Inspector Field calls in authors Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins for consultation. The murdered Don was a member of a strange group of historians, political theorists, and chemists who met almost every night in an Oxford pub, but Collins and Dickens are baffled about what they could have been discussing. What, after all, do historians and chemists have in common. Clearly there is more to the mystery than meets the eye--especially as a young Mycroft Holmes is investigating for the home office.
Dickens, Collins, and Dickens' mistress Ellen head for Oxford where Dickens and Collins take the intellectual route and Ellen poses as a bar maid to pick up the local gossip. When a second Don is murdered, their fears become a certainty. This is not simply an accidental killing in a bad neighborhood, it is connected to something political and big.
William J. Palmer tells this story from the point of view of Wilkie Collins, author of one of the first mystery novels written. He allows Wilkie to experience the dramatic changes sweeping over Britain in the 1850s, with the introduction of trains, bicycles, and new technologies of destruction. Wilkie and Dickens, along with Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carrol) spout literary references, quote from both contemporary (to them) and ancient works, and show their mixed reaction to Victorian times.
THE DONS AND MR. DICKENS is a well written novel with a fun premise and a wonderful scene with Collins having to cross country on a big-wheeled bicycle to save the day. The introduction of Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock Holmes fans will recognize this younger version of Sherlock's brother) is a cute touch.
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